IN HOT WATERWORKS
Inside Carl's office, the three litigation partners were gathered in a tête-à-tête,
the eventual goal of which (albeit known only to two of them) was to
address the status of Denny's tête.
But like a beautiful woman's assets, Denny's tête
could not be approached directly. It required delicacy, foreplay,
time--and also a great deal of chicanery and deception.
They were at phase three of the above plan when a receptionist knocked
and entered. "Excuse me. There's someone on the phone for Mr. Crane who
says it's personal and refuses to leave a message." Lacquered
fingertips resting on the handle, she waited for further instructions.
Carl rubbed his temple in the customary spot. The one with the vein
that had been bulging out more and more ever since he had arrived in
Boston. "You know the protocol: tell the lady that Denny's had a
vasectomy, so it can't possibly be his. Instruct her that other calls
go either to the public health department or to in-house counsel, and
give her the phone numbers, unless--" You could see the afterthought
flit across Carl's features.
Carl looked to Denny. "You haven't actually gotten married, have you?"
"Don't remember." Chin bobbing up and down on his chest, Denny appeared
to be all but asleep. Têtes
weren't a priority for him these days, although he had accidentally
requested a big set recently when he had tried to stave off mad cow by
practicing his French on the Madame of an escort service. "You'd have
to ask Alan."
That vein pulsed again, and Carl wondered if aneurysms were a terribly
painful way to die. He turned back to the receptionist. "Calls may be
directed to Mr. Shore as Denny's in-house counsel, or if the lady
wishes to leave a number, Denny may call her back. If he remembers who
Denny snorted. "Tell her to fax over a picture of her--" He pressed his
palms together to form a slit.
"It's not a woman." The receptionist blurted at the last and most
fortuitous possible moment.
Carl and Shirley exchanged silent alarms.
"At least, I don't think it is," the receptionist appeared to waffle.
"He says his name is Anthony"
"Oh." Denny perked up. "I'll take this." Pushing past Carl, he grabbed
the desk phone.
He dropped his voice as he covered the mouthpiece with one palm. "Would
you mind? This is a private conversation." With the back of the other
hand, he shooshed Carl and Shirley towards the door.
Carl stood his ground.
"Actually, yes. This is my office."
"Oh. Right. In that case--" Denny set the receiver back in the cradle,
but not before he hit speakerphone.
"Anthony!" Denny answered with a jovial boom.
"Dennis Crane?" An improbable falsetto flitted around the room.
Carl's eyebrows shot up to his mousse line
"Proud, erect and in the flesh." Denny rested his hip on Carl's window
"This is Anthony. From Waterworks. You left your watch here last night."
Shirley whispered to Carl. "Waterworks. Isn't that--?"
"Oh, yeah. Where not even the plumb lines hang straight." Carl
"Did I?" Denny sounded surprised. He made a show of examining his left
wrist. It was bare. He sort of flapped a little for emphasis before
pulling his sleeve back down.
"It's got your name engraved on the back."
"Must have been having too much fun to check for the time."
"Don't I know it, girl." A giggle that sounded like Betty Boop on a bad
acid trip came out of the speakerphone, and Carl winced.
"We get quite a collection, from time to time. No pun intended. But I
didn't feel comfortable leaving one this nice in lost and found. Too
many nimble fingers around here, if you know what I mean."
"Of course I do. That's part of what we pay the door fee for." Now
Denny and Betty laughed in unison.
Shirley murmured under her breath. "Dementia or not, this is in no way
consistent with any mindset Denny has ever demonstrated in the past.
And boy, has he demonstrated plenty over the years. Alan, however--"
Carl strode to the door. "Find Alan Shore and get him in here now," he
demanded of the first paralegal passing by.
"I can bring it to you." The voice on the phone continued in an
unctuous, come-hither lilt. "If you want, if you're single, and if
you'll buy me breakfast."
"As single as the night that night the big, hairy doctor slapped my
bottom and made me scream," Denny said. They both laughed again. It
wasn't pretty. No, not pretty at all.
Shirley's eyes widened.
"But don't bother," Denny continued. "You know what they say: if you
leave something behind, you must want to come back. I'll pick it up
"My shift starts at seven, and I get off--well I guess that depends
upon when you get here." There went Betty Boop again.
And the vein on Carl's head.
And very nearly Shirley's fruit and yogurt breakfast.
"I'll be there at eight. Save me a raspberry flavored condom; they're
my favorite. In fact, make it two. Toodles." Denny hung up the phone.
Two faces stared at him.
"You left your watch at a gay bathhouse?" Carl asked, apparently just
in case he'd misconstrued the past five minutes.
Or, perhaps in case Denny had.
"What's the big deal? I have others. At least this time, I remembered
my pants." Shaking his head like there was something wrong with the two
of them, Denny stomped out the door just as Alan showed up.
"What's going on?" Alan asked.
Denny shoved his left wrist in Alan's face with a disgruntled wave. "I
forgot my watch last night. They're making a big deal. I don't see why.
It's not like I have anywhere else to be." He brushed by Alan's
shoulder and sulked off down the hall.
Neck still craned backwards after Denny, Alan sidled through the door
of Carl's office. "What's--?" he started.
But when he turned and surveyed the two hard stares, he started over.
He straightened his spine and smoothed his jacket and tie. "I see. So,
what is it that I've done now, and far more importantly: how convinced
are you that you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?" He ran his
hand over the front of his jacket again.
Denny was in his office trying on shirts in an assortment of shades of
pinks and creams with bow-ties and jackets in various fuchsias,
magentas and pomegranates.
"I hear you've been stepping out without me," said Alan. He entered
"A bathhouse of ill repute."
"Most amazing place," said Denny as he shrugged on the anthurium
jacket. You know, they have this wall: you stick your penis through it,
and you get a blow-job."
"You don't say."
"We should tell people about this."
"I think they know."
"I'm thinking of opening up a franchise. A drive-through. You stick
your penis out your car window, and--"
"Got it," said Alan. "Didn't they try that in California in the
seventies? About the time the VW minibus came out?"
"Instead of the golden arches, I'm thinking of calling it the Glory
"It's got name recognition. I'll grant you that."
"Just imagine driving down the highway, looking up in the sky and
seeing a giant, glowing penis hole. Wouldn't you pull over?"
"I'd be virtually unable to help myself."
"That's what I'm saying. Customers are ready-made. Employees could be a
problem. I may have to offer dental." Denny paused to make a note on
the legal pad on his desk.
Alan sat down on the sofa. "Denny, what's going on? Why are you going
to a gay bathhouse?"
"I just told you man, the blow-jobs! What other reason do you need?"
Denny made a vague gesture. "Eh. A mouth's a mouth. It's dark. And as
for the other end: turn 'em over, it's all the same. It's more fun than
my gym. If you're going to get hot and sweaty, why not get the orgasm
too, is what I always say. I'm thinking of getting a membership."
"You can't mean that."
Denny whirled on him. His eyes sharpened. "Don't…tell me
mean. You know a lot of things, Alan, but you can't know that."
Then he turned back to his couture. "How do I look?"
"Like a nosegay," Alan said, not even trying to tone down the derision.
"Perfect!" said Denny. He opened a desk drawer. "Now, for the cod piece
resistance: one lump or two?"
"Are those socks?" asked Alan, craning his neck.
"They're clean," said Denny. "I don't reuse." He began to stuff them
down the front of his pants.
"You can't do that!" Alan half laughed.
"Sure I can. Lawyers are allowed to advertise now. They changed the
rules with Vatican II. Or with New Coke. Or some time in there."
"It's a bathhouse," Alan said. "There'll be nothing to stuff. You leave
your clothes in the locker room and walk around naked."
"Yes. You'd know that, wouldn't you?" Denny's tone changed to crisp and
humorless. "So, will you sponsor for me for membership?"
The room was silent but for the ticking of one of Denny's award clocks.
Alan settled deeper into the sofa. "Ah. Is that what this is about?"
Denny marched over, all of the banter gone. If he wasn't truly enraged,
it was as near to it as Alan ever wanted to see him. "I've invited you
everywhere, my most intimate places. My spa, my fishing lodge, my home,
"Yes. Can we not revisit that particular invitation?"
The deflection didn't work. Denny sounded just as furious. And hurt.
"I've given you my everything, and now I find out that you have some
secret life that I'm not allowed in. That you don't want me in. How can
you call yourself my friend, and dissect me out like that. Without
even--" Denny's voice trailed off, like a steam engine when all the
coal is burnt and gone.
"It's a seedy venue for anonymous gay sex, and you're a homophobe."
"I'm your homophobe," said Denny as if he were explaining it to a
child. "We're compadres. Mano-in-mano. Together in the end. Til the
end," he corrected himself. "You're supposed to at least invite me."
"Denny, I am genuinely sorry if I wounded your feelings. It simply
never occurred to me that you would go."
"Fine. But why not give me the choice? You've never trusted me. You've
admired me, been awed by me, stunned by me even--"
"But you've never trusted me. It's not your fault," Denny took a
breath. "You've probably never trusted anyone. I know you mean well.
"But here's the thing about dementia: I need all my thoughts. And I
need my friends to be able to trust that when I have a thought, that
it's me and not the mad c-- Not the Alzheimer's. And not them putting
words in my mouth or doing my thinking for me. Otherwise, who is it
that they're friends with?
"I need that trust from you, Alan."
The clock ticked on.
"Okay," said Alan in his most gut-wrenchingly sincere tone.
Then he stood up and tried to look--cute. "So, now that that's settled:
sleepover tonight?" He batted his eyelashes, but only once.
Didn't matter. Denny wasn't looking. "Can't. I have a date. Sauna room
at eight." Denny had already spun around and wandered back over to the
Alan blinked. "But…what about that thing…that we
do…you and I? At night--"
Denny pulled the socks out of his shorts and tossed them at Alan,
sparing him only the briefest of glances. "Guess you'll have to make do
without me." Then he turned back to his wardrobe.
Alan checked Denny's hallway before leaving more out of hope than
habit, although if anyone had asked, he would have likely claimed the
inverse. Nonetheless, Alan was pleased and surprised to see the balcony
doors open and to smell the unmistakable evidence of Denny warming his
He was also surprised--although not nearly so pleased--to find Denny
wearing nothing but shower shoes, a bath towel and a Rolex.
Denny waved a cigar at him in silent greeting.
"What happened to your date?" Alan asked, as he decanted himself into
his usual chair. Scotch and a cigar were laid out beside it.
"Watch steamed up in the sauna. Had to leave. Damnedest thing." Denny
shook his wrist with the titanium Rolex Submariner on it. Through the
flawless crystal, the time read 8:08.
"Ah. Well, at least you got a consolation prize." Alan motioned to the
"This?" said Denny. "No, I bring my own." He lifted one flap of the
towel a perilous distance off of his lap to exhibit the subtle "DENNY
CRANE" stitching in satin along one edge. "In fact, I took a stack over
and left them there."
Alan raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Fair's fair. It was a trade. I took a bunch of their condoms. They
have better flavors. Fruity." Denny smacked his lips together a few
Alan suppressed a snicker at the thought of men parked in rest stops
across New England with Denny Crane cum towels wedged behind the
The distance between them grew quiet again, but it wasn't their usual
amiable peace. It was more like the rumbling footfalls of the elephant
that thumped around the balcony with them.
Whoever speaks first loses, and Denny Crane never lost.
Alan didn't like to lose either, but some losses were
tolerable--acceptable even--and others were not. He gave himself enough
time to light his cigar and take a draw. Then he began.
"I have done many things I'm ashamed of, some in the interest of
clients who disgust me, some in the Möbian interests of
some solely because it felt good. I suppose some part of me has always
longed for an over-involved mother or father who would discipline me
and make me do right."
"Or a naughty woman in latex with a paddle." Denny mumbled.
"Perhaps there's a part of me that is still the lonesome little boy who
aches for his parents' attention. A part that will commit the most
egregious acts to get someone to care enough to help him, or stop him,
or even just spank him across the bottom and send him to his room."
Alan nibbled at the rim of his scotch. "I've always thought it very
fortunate that a career in law was open to me. If not law, then I
should have gone into surgery, or animal research, I suppose, or some
other field where I could commit unspeakable hurts for profit then
point to my professional canon in self-righteous pride and claim that I
am, yea, morally bound to do so for the good of all humankind. If not,
I suppose I'd probably have been a mass murder."
"They'd certainly never've let you work in a toy factory."
"Lorraine thinks that if I'd been allowed to have the pet I'd often
begged my parents for, I would have better learned attachment and
empathy. She doesn't know the true reason I repeatedly asked my parent
for those pets. Or the reason that they thought it best I not have one."
That got Denny's attention, but this time he kept his mouth shut.
Alan took a sip. "At age forty-six, I've long since accepted who I am.
I can't change that, nor would I want to. But the exhilaration I get
with these torts: I'm not proud of that. And it frightens me. Sometimes
Alan took a breath. "I go to that club to subdue a piece of myself that
I wish didn't exist, and I don't mean some 1950's oral-anal pop
psychology morality. I mean something far more primal. I go there when
the facets of myself that do wrong and revel in it threaten to take
"I go there because there is no one I care for, or really even know. I
go there because there is no affection or attraction or desire or even
lust. There is no softness or loveliness or beauty or yearning. I go
there solely because one of the things I revere most in life--our
sexuality--is no longer about the joy and union and shared sensations
of two people who yearn to be all that they can with each other, but is
reduced to a pure animalistic reflexive physiological release in all
its filth and degradation.
"It's sort of like a reset button for the soul, I suppose. After a base
and demeaning night of having all the sex I can stand and enjoying none
of it--beyond a certain lightening of the scrotum--I am reminded of the
importance of a maintaining a connection to the higher elements of
humanity, and why I should at least try to care.
"You are my best friend Denny. Not only do I love and value you, but I
also admire you. And I would hope to have those sentiments, at least in
some part reflected back on me.
"I don't want you to see that part of me. I'm ashamed of it. I am
ashamed of what takes me there. If I haven't been clear enough, and if
it doesn't disquiet your sensibilities, I am not referring to the
technical or the physical."
Alan glanced over to gauge the reaction, but Denny appeared entirely
"We like people for their attributes," said Denny, when he saw that he
finally had Alan's full attention. "We love people in spite of them."
"You certainly serve as a prime exemplar of that credo," Alan said
With a sharp motion, Denny jerked his shoulders around. "Damned
straight! The world is starved for love. You shouldn't cheat anyone out
of the opportunity to show it. I don't." He jammed his cigar between
his lips, his signal that that was all he had to say on the matter.
Alan cogitated for a few minutes. Or just watched the evening sky
change. Their companionable silence had been restored again, but there
was something he wanted to add.
"If it's any consolation, I haven't been there in months. I think it
has something to do with the--"
"I'm rubbing off on you," said Denny.
"I wish you hadn't phrased it quite that way, but yes. And I couldn't
be happier." Alan reached for his cigar.
"Did you really take a blow-job from a man just to make me jealous?"
"Not just. I told you: there was the orgasm too."
Alan's stare interrogated Denny further.
"I think so. I put my penis in this hole, and something happened."
"Ah. Sex ed in ten words or less. And the silly school district thought
it would take at least six months."
"I'm telling myself it was a woman," Denny continued.
"It's a men's only club. Attendees are naked."
"It's dark. Small-breasted women could pass. Think Hillary; she could.
Denny's eyes were on Alan as he chuckled to himself for several seconds
in a row.
"I don't want to have sex with you," Denny said at last.
All laughter stopped. Alan twisted his whole body towards Denny, an
unreadable expression on his face. "That might be the most loving thing
a man ever said to me." He leaned forward, lips parted, as if possibly
to intimate something else.
"If you try to kiss me, I'll flip you on your back and sit on your face
Alan flopped back in his own chair. "You make that sound like a bad
thing. It's the Wednesday night special down at Waterworks, you know. I
usually have to pay extra for it."
Denny glared at him.
"What ever happened to a 'mouth is a mouth?'"
"That was when I was trying to win you back."
"Now that you have me, you're just letting yourself go?"
"That's not true." Denny shifted his hips into his lecture pose.
"People say that sex is no good after marriage, but they're wrong. The
best sex I ever had in my life was when I was married." Denny
punctuated the point with a jab of his cigar.
"Was it with your wife?"
"Which explains a number of things. Speaking of--"
Denny groaned, "Here it comes."
"Sleepover?" Alan finished.
"I knew it!" Denny grunted. "All right, but separate showers."
"How else are we going to share the fig Newtons?" Denny reasoned.
"Bathing suits optional?" Alan pushed, a mischievous lilt to his voice.
Denny opened his mouth like he might be starting to object, then he let
it go. "Better say yes. I've been getting…itchy myself. I
didn't pick up something in the steam room." Standing up, he reached
under his towel and scratched.
"You really are the most remarkable person I've ever met, bar none."
Alan stood up to join him. He moved in beyond the invisible personal
"I'm not joking about sitting on your head," Denny warned.
"You asked me to trust you. Trust me." He leaned in and softly rubbed
noses, Eskimo style.
"I'd rather have sat on your head." Denny grumbled, but he didn't pull
away. Or wipe his nose.
"Maybe next time." Alan's lips twitched. "Ready?"
"Ready." Denny put threw his arm around Alan's shoulders and began to
steer him toward the exit.
Denny stopped. "Mm?"
"Towel." Alan nodded his head back to where the towel had fallen to the
"Oh. Right." Denny re-wrapped his waist and tried again for the door.